There appears to be some confusion about where we our in our budgeting process so let me lay it all out. In a "normal" year the Council would have about 15 meetings to go over the budget. During these meetings, Council members can place items they have questions about or oppose on the "open items list". This list also includes all additions to the budget as well as all tax rates and transfer to the schools. This list is considered in what is usually the penultimate budget meeting called "mark up". Whatever comes out of mark up is usually presented as the Council's budget at a public hearing. The public hearing is followed by a budget work session, usually short, to consider public input. Whatever comes out of that meeting is presented at "First reading" and is voted on. This followed by "second reading" which is normally a formality. So, it looks like this:
5-year forecast & guidance to staff (fall of previous year)
City Manager presents his budget
Public hearing (citizen's time too) on Manager's budget
15-ish budget meetings to review budget
Finance Chair normally presents Council budget
Public Hearing on Council budget
budget work session to consider
So, the vote at the budget work session after the public hearing to forward the Council's budget to first reading was 4-2. However, at the conclusion of this "final" work session, a couple of Council Members asked that members submit ideas for cutting the budget and requested an additional meeting. This is most unusual (not bad, just unusual) as the work session after the public hearing is always the final budget meeting.
A few days later, the Mayor did call that meeting and from that meeting a compromise was reached that reduced the budget a further 2 cents on the operating side. The result of that action was a ~$450,000 reduction in school spending (but they're still getting $1.3 million more than last year). The real reduction to the schools is about ~$200k as they are getting about $250k more than they had budgeted. The school folks were not pleased with this development but I have confidence that they will make it work.
On the City side, we deferred our economic development department for 6 months and eliminated one position from the City staff. The deferral will happen without much fuss: we won't be hiring anyone for Economic Development until after we have a new Manager and that ain't happening until September, I would expect.
The vote on this compromise was 4-2 with Mssrs. Aveni and Lovejoy voting no. These actions bring the tax increase down to just over 7%. That's still a lot but better than it was. This compromise is what will be brought forth on Monday night for First Reading.
My reflection on all of this is that the city would have been better served if Council would have provided guidance to staff on CIP spending in the five year forecast instead of just putting in $0. We told staff to prepare a CIP plan that fit their best judgement. Some were surprised by the scope of the plan that emerged. I'm not sure why. Of course, I was in the minority on that vote so maybe I should re-examine my dissent….:) In any event, the only problem that we might have (well, not the only one) is that by cutting the budget a bit we may have created a bit of a hole to be filled next year when we have to pay for the full year of those economic development staffers. I believe that if the economy continues on its current modest path, we'll be fine. If it doesn't, we'll have to take action. That's the way it goes.